No BS Job Search Advice: Methods of Negotiation

Methods of Negotiation

It should go without saying that having good references is an important part of the job search process. The employer who is evaluating you has only met you on a few occasions and he feels you have the skills required. But your references are people who have worked with you regularly and who know your work first hand.

Ideally, your references should be former managers. Peers are second choices, particularly for non-manager level job hunters.

So what’s the biggest mistake that job hunters make with their references?

They don’t have the references checked to hear what is said about them!

(The second biggest mistake is presenting inaccurate contact information to the employer and then having to correct it.)

Recently, someone I was representing for a senior position with a major firm took “the lazy man’s approach” of turning over unchecked references to a prospective employer. They were given at the time of the first meeting on the employment application.

There are two main methodologies for negotiating. The first is to speak very openly about what you’re looking for and to drive the negotiations from this standpoint: this is what I want, and this is what I need. This way, the firm has the opportunity to meet your needs or not. Most people, given the level position they’ve attained, are forced to negotiate on this basis.

But there’s another way that also works very well and that’s one where you’re really secretive about what you want, and you say, in effect, “Make your best offer. I’ll decide whether or not to take it. I’ve got 3 or 4 other things going on. I want to see how you really value me.” Now, that puts a little anxiety on the employer’s side.

It depends, though. For some jobs that’s a good tactic, and for others, especially where the firm is trying to hire someone to be part of a team, that kind of behavior doesn’t work. But when they’re really looking for accomplished people, that may be the best tactic that you can use.

The better a job that you’ve done, the more well-known you’ve become and the larger your accomplishments, the higher (within reason) they’ll be willing to pay for you. A good negotiation should leave both sides satisfied and dissatisfied. Now, it’s easier when you have a recruiter representing your interests, because frankly they handle the difficult conversations, criticism or “body blows” in your place and in the employer’s place, so both of you can stay in love with one another.

If you’re doing your own negotiations, you run the risk of antagonizing your new boss and experiencing their taking it out on your later on. You always have to be very careful about how you do this, and this is one of those places where recruiters allow you a great luxury and provide a terrific service for you.

A friend told me about his brother who has worked for the aeronautical industry for many years. His resume was so strong that when he applied to Jet Propulsion Laboratory out near Cal-Tech, there were about 6,000 people applying for the position, and he was the one who got the job. He had excelled at everything he’d done. When it came time to negotiate, he knew the qualified candidates comprised a very narrow list, and it gave him a lot of leverage and power in the negotiations.

An organization like JPL knows exactly who their target market is, and they also know what it costs to hire someone from that target market. In broader sectors, like accounting, programming, or management, the talent pool is far larger. The firm is trying to get the best person they can for the least amount of money without risking losing them six months later to someone knocking on their door saying, “Hi, we’ll pay you more. Please come work for us.”

About six months ago, I was representing a guy named Phil. He was one of those secretive interviewer types. He just didn’t want to disclose anything. We knew how much he was making and that’s as far as he would go. We kept asking him, “So how much are you looking for?” He always replied, “Tell them to make a good offer and I’ll consider it.”

He was a very talented guy, although frustrating for me, yet this is the way he played his hand. We had him interview with a client of ours who loved him. They kept looking to us for guidance about his salary and all we could do was shrug our shoulders. We eventually decided on a strategy where we made a decent offer, but not a great one, because we needed to find out from him what would cause him to accept. So they made an offer for about $25,000 more than he was currently earning, and we waited for his response, which was, “A good starting place. This is what it will take.” He just wanted to know that they were “serious” with him and that’s how it played out.

Most people are best off just revealing to the recruiter or to the organization what they’re looking for and then taking into account whether or not the firm tries to match it, exceed it, or comes in a little bit less. Because there’s a message in everything they do.

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Jeff Altman, The Big Game HunterJeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 1900 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.

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